Some statements sound so right we hardly dare question their validity. I ran across one such statement during my morning walk: Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Injustice Everywhere. I saw that sign shortly after reading about the persecution of Christians in Nigeria. I thought about it again when talking to a friend who came to America to escape the injustices of Fidel Castro in Cuba, and then again later watching a movie about America’s entrance into World War II in order to defeat Adolf Hitler’s Germany. However, I’m not sure if life can be boiled down to a single simple statement.
Some questions sound so right we hardly dare question their validity. One I have asked more times than I care to admit is, If your church closed its doors, would your community miss it? The question is designed to reveal the relationship between the church and its community—and that’s a good thing. It assumes that every congregation is an asset to the community and can contribute to the overall well-being of the community. It affirms the teaching of Jesus that Christians are to be salt and light in the world, with the hope that people will see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). It discourages Christ-followers from spending so much time with church folk that they neglect their neighbors. It suggests that coaching a kid’s local soccer team is as important as teaching a kid’s Sunday school class.
So, ask yourself, if your church closed its doors, would your community miss it? A positive answer often yields a list of ways the congregation’s facility is used as a community center for activities like voting, blood drives, yoga classes, and more. Or it may yield a list of ways members of the congregation volunteer to advance community-based initiatives, like Kid’s Hope or a food pantry. A negative answer had better propel the congregation into new forms of community service.
One outcome of this type of questioning is that local congregations have become proactive, intentionally getting more involved in their communities—and this is good.
But I’m beginning to question the premise of the initial question…if your church closed would anyone miss it?
My questioning rises from this observation. I’ve noticed many congregations serving their communities well in civic-minded ways, but not sharing the gospel with people living in their communities. In other words, they are serving well but not making disciples. It seems as though they hope people will make the leap-to-believing by noticing their loving acts of service and miraculously be propelled to faith in Jesus Christ.
While a leap may, in fact, happen, it is typically anecdotal. In other words, a church may always find one person among them who, by an amazing work of the Holy Spirit, came to saving faith as a result of an act of service. But their sanctuary will not be filled with such people, the reason being that, behind our acts of service, lies a hope that they will prompt questions in the minds of those who witness them, questions that only the Gospel can answer.
If your church closed its doors, would anyone miss it? Hopefully, they would miss our efforts to enrich our community but will they miss our proclamation of the Gospel? Our message of good news? Our call to new life in Christ? Our invitations to join us on the journey of following Jesus?
Finally, when I examine the New Testament church I’ve been led to wonder how the apostle Peter would have answered the question before us.
I hear Peter responding:
“Yes, I’m sure the jailer would miss us singing while in prison. I’m thinking people in town might miss out on a casual trip to the garbage dump to witness a Christian or two hanging from a cross. You can bet the police would miss arresting us for our civil disobedience. After all, without us, they would have so much more time on their hands to arrest thugs and thieves. I certainly hope our neighbors would miss our acts of kindness prompted by love. However, I am quite sure that the people who should miss us, won’t. I’m referring to people who need the Lord but don’t yet recognize their need. But, if they don’t miss us, it’s not because we didn’t do everything we could to share our Good News with them.”
And so, we need to ask ourselves, “Would people miss us if our church closed?”